It’s fast to validate campaigns in the affiliate marketing world.
You get some offer recommendations from your affiliate manager. You reverse engineer competitors with a spy tool to see what’s working. You “borrow” some landing pages. And you come up with some angles to make the campaign your own.
I’ve simplified the process, but you can go from idea -> traffic within a few hours. I’m not saying it’s that easy to become profitable, but you can get a sense of the campaign’s potential within a few days.
Speed is important in the online world – the faster you move, the faster you learn.
Many affiliate marketers have transitioned to the world of eCommerce in the past few years. In eCommerce, campaigns launches are slow. Idea -> validation can take months for some people.
And there are more risks involved.
If your budget is less than a few thousand bucks, you can’t afford the “throw shit at the wall until something sticks” method.
What happens if you fail at an affiliate marketing campaign? 90% of the money that you lose is traffic costs. The advertiser takes on the risks of carrying inventory and fulfilling it for the customers.
How does that change with eCommerce? In most cases, you have to take risks with holding inventory and fulfillment. If your supplier requires a minimum order quantity of $2,000, what happens if you’re unable to sell the inventory? You’re stuck with unsold inventory sitting in your garage.
And not to mention the time and energy costs you devote.
That’s why it’s so important to go through the stage of product validation—making sure people want to buy your product before you commit resources.
Here’s one cycle I’ve seen people fall into.
Get excited over an idea for a product.
Spend thousands of dollars in inventory. They wait for one to two months for the products to arrive from China.
Spend a month building out their Shopify store and creatives.
Crickets. There’s barely even any “add to carts” in their Shopify dashboard! They wasted thousands of dollars in inventory, and several months of effort.
Here’s the truth: You might have to go through and test 15+ products before you find your big winner. You can do all the research you want, but the market decides the winners.
One mindset I have is to view campaigns as bets—each product you launch is a bet.
The more bets you can place, then the higher the chances you have of winning big. You should be trying to validate your product in the fastest, and cheapest way possible. This gives you the ability to make more bets.
And here’s the best part: your probability of winning increases with each bet you take. You’re leveling up with each launch.
You’re learning how to negotiate better prices. You start understanding the ad platform more and more. You start figuring out which landing page style works the best. The most important thing is that you keep placing bets. Nothing guarantees success. You have to keep placing bets and stacking the odds in your favor.
One book that influenced my thinking several years ago was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Their framework revolves around speed and focusing it on the 80 / 20.
Today I’m going to share some ways for you to validate your ideas faster and cheaper so that ultimately you improve your chances of success.
Bad Ways to Validate a Product
Everyone understands that you want to vet an idea before going all in. But most approaches to product validation have some flaws.
01. Surveying People You Know
Asking people what they think about your idea is horrible.
Me: Hey what do you think about my idea? Your Friend:Holy shit that’s an amazing idea! I’ll totally buy it when you have it!
*A Month Later*
Me: Hey you know that product I was telling you about? Well, I have it now in stock! Did you want to buy it? Your Friend: Oh uhh… Sorry, I’m running low on funds right now. Good luck though!
Surveying can lead you to a false positive. A better way to do a survey is to ask for the sale.
Me: Hey what do you think about my idea? Your Friend:Holy shit that’s an amazing idea! I’ll totally buy it when you have it! Me: Thanks for your support. Well, I can get some inventory here within a month. I’m actually taking pre-orders now. I can take Venmo or PayPal. Your Friend: Oh uhh… Sorry, I’m running low on funds right now. Good luck though!
What happened? People don’t like conflict. They might think it’s a horrible idea, but they don’t want to discourage you from your dreams. So they’d rather do the song and dance than tell you that your product sucks.
“Men lie. Women lie. The numbers lie.” – Reminder, Jay Z
Asking for money upfront will reveal the truth.
Dropshipping was the rage several years ago. You sell the product, and the manufacturer sends the product to the customer.
The main problem is that people expect their product within a few business days (you can thank Amazon Prime for that).
Most manufacturers are based out of China. It can take several weeks or even months before the customer gets it. So what happens if it takes them longer than expected? Complaints. Chargebacks. Facebook and Google are now doing post-purchase surveys with the customer.
Something else I’ve noticed is that some Americans have become anti-China due to the pandemic. Seeing a package shipped from China can trigger them emotionally (even though 90%+ of the stuff in their house is made in China).
Dropshipping could work if the manufacturer is close enough to the customer. Try to get it to the customer in under one week.
The Lean Product Launch Method
I’m going to share a rough framework for launching a product. With this framework, you can go from idea to launch within a few days.
Your goal is to find a winning product as quickly and as cheaply as possible. Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter.
1.1. Product and Niche Selection
The first step is to choose a product. Here are some of the things I look for in a solid product.
You always want to be a part of a growingtrend. If you’re entering a market too late, then there’s going to be way too much competition.
Google Trends: Keyword trends straight from Google. If more and more people are searching for something, then there’s growing demand. Trends.co: A publication dedicated to researching growing trends and businesses. JungleScout: Product data from Amazon. It’s amazing to see how competitive different niches are.
B. What are the problems with the existing solutions? How does your product aim to solve that?
People buy products to solve problems. There’s a high probability that you already have competition for your idea.
One mistake people make is that they give up when they see that the idea already exists.
“ah man, the idea’s already done. I’m already too late”
Don’t be scared. Competition means that your idea is validated. Imagine the opposite and there’s no competition. You’d be wondering if it’s because your idea sucks.
Realize that every business has an Achilles heel—a weakness you can exploit. Imagine if Google got scared because of Yahoo! Or Apple being scared of Nokia.
The sweet spot is being able to offer improvements over the existing incumbents, rather than offering “me too” products. Research what people are complaining about with the existing solutions. You can go to YouTube comments, Amazon reviews, TrustPilot, etc.
Complaints = opportunity. I’ll share an example of this approach.
One product that has caught my eye recently is Monkey Feet. This is a device that allows you to attach dumbbells to your feet. There’s a growing trend towards working out at home. And this product solves a problem (it’s hard to directly strengthen your hip flexors).
I’m on their website and reading all the negative reviews. People are complaining about two things.
It’s uncomfortable. There isn’t enough padding, and it hurts using it.
It takes forever to put on and off. It’s an inefficient design.
This tells me there’s a ton of opportunity to improve the design. Imagine if you could create a version that’s more comfortable, faster to put on, and more stylish.
You’d crush it.
C. Back of the Napkin Math
You have to be able to sell your widget at a cost where you’re making a decent profit margin. Open up a spreadsheet and do some simple math.
Estimate the shipping and fulfillment, taxes, traffic costs, your profit margin, cost of goods sold, etc. This can be hard if you don’t have experience.
If you want to keep it simple, you can use the 4x rule. Sell the product for 4x your costs.
If buying the product costs $10, sell it for $40. This should cover the cost of goods sold, traffic costs, and leave you with a decent profit margin.
With eCommerce, think about the business model that you’re going for.
One framework is to think about the average order value and the frequency of purchase. Here are two that I’ve seen work over and over again.
1. The first one is a high average order value, but a low frequency of purchase.
High profit margins with each order, but people are not purchasing them frequently. The biggest example that comes to mind are luxury handbags or watches.
D2C mattress companies such as Casper and Purple also come to mind. Having such high average order value is what gives them the profit margins to run such aggressive campaigns.
2. The second is a low average order value, but a high frequency of purchase.
High profit margins + monthly subscriptions = GOLD
High average order value can also come from bundling products together. While you’re focusing on a single product, keep in mind what else you could bundle together in the future.
If you buy a mattress, what else would you be interested in? A pillow, bed sheets, a bed frame, etc. If you buy a skincare cleanser, you might be interested in a toner, moisturizer, sunblock, etc.
Some items are harder to bundle. If I buy a watch, I’m not really interested in buying anything else to compliment the watch.
D. What if Your Product Doesn’t Exist?
eCommerce sellers tend to fall into two categories.
1. Resell Alibaba Products. You find a product with some potential on Amazon. A great story and fancy packaging can take you far.
This is the fastest way to approach eCommerce. The main problem is that anyone can easily rip you off. Once you gain some traction, then you should work with the manufacturer to make some customizations to your best-selling products.
Remember, make tweaks that benefit the customers!
2. Creating Products From Scratch, aka Inventors.
Most people naturally fall into the creator category when they first start.
You identify a problem, but what happens if no product is solving it in the way that you want?
You could manufacture this product from scratch. The problem is that it’s expensive and time-consuming. You’re taking on substantial risks if the idea isn’t validated yet.
The solution?You should try to sell the closest thing possible to your idea.
I can’t emphasize this enough—creating a custom product from scratch is a time-consuming and expensive process. It’s much better to validate the niche first and make sure you have a solid form of distribution. THEN you can start creating.
You have so much more leverage once you have an established customer base. You can do a small test run with your existing audience through pre-sales. Or you can launch a Kickstarter.
Advanced: Let’s say you’re dead set on creating a product from scratch. You could always hire someone to create 3D renders of your product.
Create a landing page and feature renders. Run the traffic. If the idea is validated, THEN start bringing your idea to life.
I’ve written quite a bit on product brainstorming over the past year. If you want to read more, here are the links to those articles.
2.2 Lean Fulfillment
You’re taking a risk when you hold inventory for the first time. Let’s say that the manufacturer has a minimum order quantity of $2,000.
What happens if you order $2,000 worth of inventory, and you’re not able to sell any of the product?
You’re out $2,000—unless you want to give your inventory out as Christmas and birthday gifts for the next few years.
So, how can we sell the product while keeping the risks low?
Here are two ideas.
The first one is to launch without any inventory in stock. If you get an order in, then just refund their order.
Email them immediately.
“Hey [First Name],
I’m so sorry, but your [Widget] is out of stock. It literally just ran out of stock a few seconds before your order was placed, but our database didn’t update in time.
We’re still facing some supply issues due to the pandemic, and I estimate that we won’t have it again in stock for another 4 weeks.
I’ve gone ahead and issued you a full refund. Once again, I’m so sorry for this!
However, I can offer you a discount code for 30% off for when we do get it back in stock. Let me know if you’re interested!”
– John Smith, Founder
P.s. what was the #1 reason that you decided to buy this product? We’re a small family-owned business, and it would really help!”
Be careful with this tactic. I don’t think the payment processor’s going to be too happy processing so many refunds.
The second idea: Order on Demand from Amazon
If you’re interested in selling an item from AliExpress, then chances are that someone else is already selling it on Amazon.
Here’s what you can do:
Sell the item on paid traffic.
You get an order!
Order the item from Amazon to yourself via Prime Shipping. Re-package the item once it arrives. Ship it to the customer. The customer gets it within a few days of their ordering.
No, this isn’t the most efficient method. But remember that the point is to validate demand. Once you validate the demand for the product, then you can order directly from the manufacturer with confidence.
Note: Some people will be wondering, why would someone buy from your Shopify store if they can buy the same thing on Amazon? Great question!
You’re giving people too much credit. Most people are impulsive buyers. If they see your ad on Facebook, their first thought isn’t to go find it on Amazon. And depending on what you’re selling, they may not even be sure how to find it.
2.3 Creating a Converting Landing Page
Landing pages can make or break your campaign. You don’t want to have an amazing product and have the campaign fail because your landing page sucked.
This is the one area I’d recommend spending a significant amount of time on.
The biggest mistake I see people make is they send traffic to a product page, rather than a landing page.
What’s the difference?
Product Page: Designed to give general information about the product. It’s meant to appeal to the masses. Think of it as a page in a catalog.
Landing Page: Stand-alone page designed to convert cold traffic. They’re usually longer and contain more information.
Here are two examples from the brand Kettle & Fire.
What difference do you see? It’s much longer, and there are way more “conversion levers” on the page. It’s designed to sell to someone who has never heard of bone broth before.
Which one do you think converts better on cold traffic? The landing page, of course.
So, why don’t more people send traffic to landing pages?
First, because most eCommerce people don’t have a background in running paid traffic. Sending traffic to a product page is the simplest route.
Second, it’s hard to customize the product page on Shopify. Shopify’s product page customization sucks. It has been on their roadmap to release “sections” for years.
So what are your options now to build a landing page in Shopify?
1. I recommend building a landing page in Unbounce. Then you can connect Unbounce to Shopify for the actual fulfillment.
2. You can use a Page Builder designed for Shopify such as PageFly or Shogun. Be careful that sometimes these page builders can slow down your site speeds.
How do you design a converting landing page? Even though eCommerce landing pages all look different, they tend to follow a general framework.
Here’s a Simple Framework You Can Use:
Hero Shot – Headline / Product Shot
Big Media Social Proof – As seen in the New York Times! Skip it if you don’t have anything.
Value Propositions – This is where you share your biggest value propositions. You have to illustrate it in a way that’s easy for people to understand. Show, don’t tell. Videos, animated GIFs, and comparison tables do well.
The Product – Various Photos. Bullet points. For this section, look at what the top sellers on Amazon are doing.
Testimonials – Text-based is okay. Conversation rates skyrocket if it’s video reviews where the customers are holding your product.
Guarantee – Share your refund policy. The stronger the refund policy, the better.
Reviews – Your product reviews. Don’t have any product reviews? Use Loox where you can “import” reviews. I’m going to keep it real—most people just make up reviews until they get some legit ones in.
I have two pieces of advice to improve your landing page.
The first is to demonstrate visually. Imagine you’re selling green superfood powder. You need to have a section explaining the ingredients in your supplement.
Here’s the most basic way of doing that.
Ingredients: Moringa, Mint, matcha green tea, wheatgrass, beets, spirulina, chlorella, etc.
You grab some stock images and type some text. Easy doesn’t stand out.
Let’s look at what Organifi does. They created an infographic that is so much more visually impactful.
Pro tip: You can easily create something similar yourself. Or pay someone on Fiverr to do it. It’s these small details that elevate your store to look like a brand.
Which one do you think leads to more conversions?
My second piece of advice is to show proof. People are skeptical online. The more proof you can show of your claims, then the higher your conversion rates.
Think of it in terms of levels.
Level 1: Text-based.
“This organic green juice is so awesome. I love it!” – John Smith
It’s all right, but this can easily be faked. How do people know you didn’t make this testimonial up? And this testimonial doesn’t move the customer emotionally.
Level 2: Pay someone on Fiverr to do a video review.
You can pay people on Fiverr to do video reviews. This is leagues better than a simple text-based testimonial.
Level 3: Video review from someone real
Once again, people are skeptical. In the back of their mind, they’re wondering if your reviews are legit or not.
The highest level is when you can prove that the review is legit. For example, a YouTube Video review from someone with over a million subscribers. Or you share a video review linked from a customer’s Instagram profile.
You might have to settle for “level 1” when you’re first starting. But as you gain more experience, you have to advance the levels of proof to increase your conversion rates.
Let’s talk about store design. It matters. You want to come across looking like a high-end D2C brand, rather than a run-of-the-mill marketer using the Debut theme.
Upgrade your theme. If you have the budget, I highly recommend upgrading your Shopify Theme. Out of the Sandbox makes the best themes. I recommend Turbo.
Professional photos. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the manufacturer has solid photos taken. What if they don’t? If you have some budget, you can send the product to a photographer on Fiverr. That’s the simplest way. You can always learn basic photography skills and take the photos yourself. You can also throw in some professional photos from Pexels. Don’t steal photos from a competitor.
Good fonts and color scheme. Good fonts and color schemes are the cheapest way to make your store look more “premium.” You can use different Chrome extensions to see what fonts and what colors a store is using. Good fonts + color schemes + professional photos from Pexels = solid looking store for free.
2.4 Generating Traffic
It’s time to send targeted traffic to your landing page. There are only a few traffic sources that are capable of sending targeted traffic.
1. Facebook Ads / Google Shopping Ads
Facebook and Google Shopping are the kings. They are the most targeted traffic sources you can use. If you can’t make it work here, then you won’t be able to make it work on other traffic sources.
These should be your main focus.
2. Instagram / TikTok Shout outs
An alternative to Facebook and Google ads are influencer shout outs. I’m not as big of a fan of them because it’s much more time-consuming. You have to find the pages to target and negotiate with each one.
There are two types of Instagram pages. The first are influencers, and the second are meme pages. Influencers are people. They’ve built expertise and trust with their audience. If you’re going this route, go for the Nano influencers. They typically have between 5,000 – 10,000 followers. Their audiences are more engaged, and the prices are more affordable.
Meme pages are pages full of memes usually created by anonymous people. Meme pages tend to be a lot cheaper for shout-outs, but the traffic doesn’t convert as well.
The opportunity with influencers is price inefficiency. Some TikTok influencers are new to the game and may not know their true value. You can take advantage of that.
2.5 Is This Product Validated?
How do you know this product has potential?
First, you have to spend money generating traffic. I think 10x the sales price is a decent number. If your product sells for $50, spend at least $500 on traffic.
I can’t emphasize this enough, but the more you can spend, the better. You need to spend enough for statistical significance.
From there you have to see what the ROI is.
If you’re profiting, congratulations, you have a winner! You can confidently go “all in” on this product because you’ve barely optimized it yet.
For most people, I suggest trying to get at least a -30% ROI.
That means if you’re spending $500 in traffic, are you generating at least $350 in sales?
Yes, you’re losing money. But remember that you haven’t optimized anything yet!
Where’s the future profit coming from?
You’ll have additional products. More products means you can bundle them. You can increase your average order value.
Economies of Scale. Instead of ordering the MOQ, you can place bigger orders. Bigger orders mean bigger discounts.
Paid Traffic Improvements. Keep split testing your creatives. If you’re running Google Shopping, you’ll see which keywords are converting.
Landing Page Improvements. Your paid traffic strategies will be more efficient. Split test your landing pages. Get a professional to take better product shots. Redesign your Shopify store.
So what happens if you’ve spent $500 and you have no sales? It’s time to move on to the next campaign.
You’ll know a winner when you see it.
Be careful of getting emotionally attached to your idea. I’ve been there, done that. You’ve put so much time into building your store. You still think it’s a great idea. If people aren’t buying, then you don’t have a business. It’s simple as that.
Go back to the drawing boards and launch the next product.
This is what separates the winners from the losers.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Churchill
Speed is King
I was watching an interview with Kobe Bryant. One thing that resonated with me is how he woke up at 4 am to practice.
Most professionals practice twice a day. By getting up at 4 am to practice early, he was getting one additional practice in. How much does that add up after five years?
A large part of success is getting reps in. If I want to improve at chess, I can go to chess.com and play dozens of games a day. There’s no cost to me getting in reps other than time.
Let’s bring this back to any sort of online marketing. You have to get your reps in. It took me 14 tries until I got my first profitable affiliate marketing campaign way back in the day.
That’s the same mentality when it comes to eCommerce. Each product you test out is a rep.
Learn how you can get more reps in with the limited amount of resources that you have.
Good copy above your product grids can reduce costs, increase conversions and add to the user experience. This is true even though that same copy sometimes pushes products below the fold.
So how do you have a conversation with branding, design, UX, paid search and operations to get them on board with adding copy above the product grid? Simple, speak to them in their terms, not in yours as an SEO or content creator.
Below you’ll find three ways that I use with my agency to approach the design, finance, branding and marketing teams. I use facts, data and examples that relate to their departments. By relating to them I am speaking their language vs. talking like I would to my team.
Please note I use “collection” instead of “category” when referencing pages because I got feedback many of my readers are on shopping cart platforms that call categories collections.
We Will Save Money From Live Chat, Customer Support & Returns, or Warehousing
In this approach you’ll want to pick a specific category or two and look through live chat records. You can also talk to the shipping and returns teams to verify the amount of specific products that get returned.
If live chat is regularly answering the same questions about a specific category of products and/or the warehouse is getting the same products back because the products in the category weren’t compatible or didn’t have a feature your customers need, you are in good shape to get copy added to the product grid.
The first thing to do is talk to finance and logistics about the costs associated with returns, warehouse logistics and shipping. Now create your pitch to the marketing and branding teams about reducing costs and make sure the Finance is included on the email so you have their support. Now create your pitch using the information you got from live chat and logistics and have some content examples in your presentation. I’ll use t-shirts for this example.
“If you’re looking for blue t-shirts that are stain and wrinkle resistant for more than 100 washes, and that are designed to hide problem areas like a beer belly, our shirts are a “fit” for you. Each of the blue t-shirts below is made form our patented fabric that is both machine washable and super comfortable. Best of all they are stain and wrinkle resistant with a 2 year money back guarantee.”
By having the example copy you can now make a case that by including these details above the product grid you can reduce the need for as much Live Chat support answering questions about wrinkles and being dry clean only. By adding copy above the product grid you are answering the questions you would normally pay live chat to handle which frees them up for more important tasks, answers questions customers that hate live chat have, and this can save you money.
Adding Copy Increases Your Conversion Rates
The most common feedback I get when I say I’d like to add copy above the products is “We don’t want to push products below the fold?” or “We don’t want our products going lower on the page”. Oddly enough this is normally said by companies that have large hero images on the tops of their collection pages which also makes no sense. But that is for a different post.
Having good copy above your product grids can and likely will increase your conversion rates. But only if you write it for the end user.
In this situation the concern from your company is losing money by pushing products down and potentially decreasing the chance of getting the person to a PDP (product display page). So instead of sharing non-tangible examples like above I use data to show that copy will increase the likelihood of reaching a PDP, not prevent it.
We’ll go with baby crib mattresses for this example.
Here are the estimated monthly search volumes for a few keywords.
baby crib mattress – 8,100
baby crib mattress size – 880
baby crib mattress pad – 320
baby cribs with mattress included – 260
You’ll see that in the phrases above roughly 1 in 10 people are looking for mattress sizes and 1 in 20 people are looking for pads. There are also questions about safety and cleaning. In total about 1 in 4 people have questions when shopping for baby crib mattresses and this is where you want to make your case.
Start by mapping out the keywords and their search volumes like I did above. Next try to get some of the live chat conversations with time stamps to show these questions are real and are not just a trend question because of a recent or social event (i.e. a baby getting hurt on a mattress or a news article about a material being potentially toxic). Now write sample copy for your pitch.
“Each baby crib mattress from XY brand is not only easy to clean, but is certified safe and non-toxic by AB organization. If you’re looking for a baby crib mattress with a pad, sort by “with pad” using the filters on the left or look for the purple circle on the product images. You’ll love the all-natural-odor resistant fabrics and stain-protecting materials. Not to mention the peace of mind you’ll enjoy when baby has an accident because with your new crib mattress, clean up is a breeze thanks to our patented XYZ.
And best of all each mattress below fits all standard baby and toddler crib sizes. If you already have your crib picked out, select the brand on the left to find each mattress that will fit perfectly with your style. If you don’t have a crib picked out, click here to see our selection of baby cribs and save when you bundle the crib and mattress together.”.
Copy Does Not Take Away From the User Experience, Copy Adds to It
In the two examples above I shared how copy above a product grid adds to the user experience. Good content on your collection pages not only reduces your companies expenses and increases sales, but it also adds to the user experience. And to prove this I run some tests.
The first is to get the ok to install the copy. The next is to find which product categories have the most questions or make your customers have to use the sorting and filtering features.
For this example lets use cargo shorts. Here is the estimated monthly search volume for the phrase.
cargo shorts – 49,500
mens cargo shorts – 49,500
womens cargo shorts – 18,100
camo cargo shorts – 3,600
black cargo shorts – 2,900
khaki cargo shorts – 1,900
big and tall cargo shorts – 1,600
The first thing I do is look for which subcategories we will have for a long time (and also convert well). If we carry kahki but not camo, even though camo has the higher search volume it is irrelevant. Send camo to the product team for future consideration and focus on what we do have which is kahki.
Now I write the copy for the main collection page for “cargo shorts”. Because it could be men’s or women’s and we have a couple of colors and sizes, I’ll do my best to incorporate them in naturally. By doing this and adding internal links we provide a good user experience by helping our customers reach the most relevant page and without having to scroll through a menu or use a search box. We’re also building site structure so this is a win-win!
Now it is time to measure the positive impact on user experience and revenue.
“Let’s face it, we all need extra pockets and that is the beauty of cargo shorts! You always have an extra pocket. Whether it’s men’s or women’s styles, or if you want a classy kahki cargo short for everyday wear… And we carry all sizes from petite options to big and tall cargo shorts.”
In the example above I’d use internal links to direct visitors from the main collection page to the sub collections. It helps them find the products they are looking for faster and also helps search engines learn about the topic and products on each sub category.
Adding copy to your category pages isn’t just for SEO, it is a way to enhance the user experience and increase revenue. If you’re looking for ideas on how to get started writing your copy or setting up tests, click here to contact me today.
Welcome! In our guide to ecommerce SEO, we’ll be diving into the marketing strategies that SEO experts use to drive traffic, and profit, to their own ecommerce sites.
SEO is all about strategy. It’s about picking your target and tailoring your site in order to get the highest SERP rankings possible across as many internet searches as you can.
This is a surefire way to maximize sales, which becomes all the more important when working with an ecommerce website.
When doing SEO for an ecommerce site, the stakes can be more intimate. This is especially the case if it’s your own site with your own sales on the line.
When you’re not a merc working for another site or an affiliate hawking other people’s goods, it can make you afraid to change up your strategy since you’re likely working for your own profit, not for a pre-arranged commission.
Paralysis by analysis is real, and it’s an easy trap to stumble into when creating an SEO strategy for your own store.
If that sounds like you, you’re going to want to read our guide. We’ve kept things simple to make for an easy read while giving you all the info you need to craft a capable ecommerce strategy.
Below we’ve covered what ecommerce is and how ecommerce SEO is different from standard SEO practices, as well as what you should or shouldn’t do to find success.
How Is SEO For Ecommerce Different?
If you have your eyes on ecommerce SEO, the chances are that you’ve got a knowledge base of standard SEO practices, but there are some fundamental differences between the two that even the best of us can ignore. Let’s break down common SEO and ecommerce SEO to find where they differ.
What we’d call standard SEO could be considered a catch-all term for all Search Engine Optimization attempts, including those for ecommerce, with more specific SEO applications having their own rule sets and ways of climbing the relevant SERPs.
If you’re here, you already know what SEO does, it helps your site appear towards the top of results pages where all the clicking is happening. Most SEO is practiced in aid of site monetization, whether that’s an affiliate operation or, you guessed it, ecommerce.
When we say that SEO aims to make your site hit the top of a results page, we mean it. The internet landscape has only gotten more and more competitive in the last decade and being able to hit that first page just isn’t enough for many webmasters out there, you need to be at the very top.
The CTR drop-off is quite dramatic and that linked study comes from 2010-2011 when the online population was smaller than it is today, so even though everyone will get a bigger slice of the pie nowadays it’s still that top spot that gets all the gold.
Since then, we’ve seen the explosion of mobile smartphones that can deliver your site into the hands of thousands… If you’ve optimized your site for mobile-friendly use, that is.
SEO can be a competent marketing strategy when used correctly, using Google’s (or your search engine of choice) algorithms to put your site in front of other people for relatively little overhead.
Without SEO, you’d instead need to rely on PPC or paid advertisements that can be costly to set up and bear inconsistent revenue streams.
So, with the above info in mind, what does ecommerce SEO do differently from other types of SEO? Well, we’ve condensed what ecommerce SEO is and how it’s different into a few handy points.
First, ecommerce SEO is simply SEO for ecommerce sites. It’s also called shop SEO and is essentially where you try to rank a site that facilitates the sales of a product or service directly. This means you, as the webmaster, would likely make most if not all of the profit.
We have time to go into more detail later, but ecommerce SEO places more importance on certain pages like category pages, for example. You want to target people who are looking for a specific product and the vague category of products that you stock.
In the same vein, the site structure is even more important. You’re not an affiliate giving users directions to the nearest retailer, you are that retailer inviting them into your store to browse, and there’s no easier way to lose a sale than to have a confusing site layout.
The homepage is even more important. It’s the front lobby of your store, not a blog, so it must be an efficient but welcoming and informational landing page that gets clicks, closes sales, and creates loyal customers out of random strangers.
One aspect of ecommerce SEO that’s the same as other sales-generating SEO practices is product page optimization. This means your site should have clean, convincing, and informative product pages that catch a lot of traffic.
Unlike other forms of SEO, ecommerce sites will be closing sales themselves. This means your cart and checkout functions should be airtight. This maximizes your conversion rate and thus the profit you make from those sales, and who doesn’t like making more money?
Key Strategies For A Successful Ecommerce SEO Strategy
It’s good to know how ecommerce SEO differs from other types of SEO and how you should pay attention to different parts of your site, but how do you do that well?
We’ll walk you through the entire process right here, so you can have a stable foundation on which to build a successful ecommerce strategy.
We’ve condensed the journey down into eight easy-to-read points, so give it a read or even follow along in real-time as you edit your site and make it the best competitor it can possibly be.
1. Keyword Research
We start out simple enough with some keyword research.
Before taking a shot, you need to line up your sites, and that’s exactly what keyword research is to an SEO campaign.
For ecommerce research, we’d advise you to pay special attention to three areas.
Find keywords to be used for your homepage and product pages. Homepage keywords ensure your site appears in more vague and directionless searches while product page keywords target those who are ready to buy.
You can use long-tail keywords on blogs, especially one owned by you, to help your ecommerce site rank. Hit local exact match search volume and low difficulty, there’s no need to go toe-to-toe with the big dogs if you can avoid them.
Don’t target the same pages with the same keywords, A.K.A keyword cannibalization. You have enough work to do without you self-sabotaging your SEO by getting too over-eager with keyword use. A spreadsheet is great for managing your keywords and where they’re targeting.
2. Site Architecture
We’ve alluded to it already, but the layout of your site is important in creating an effective ecommerce business.
By layout, we don’t just mean the design of each page but how those pages interconnect via internal links to take customers to where they want to go.
Ecommerce sites tend to be bigger and offer products directly, so you want people to get to the goods easily and make their sales.
3. On-Page SEO
This is the bedrock of most SEO campaigns but there are some areas you’ll want to pay specific attention to if you want your ecommerce site to get off the ground.
First, content is king.
There is a demonstrable edge from having content rather than copy and pasting relevant text to your product pages, and it’s much better for the topical relevancy that the giants like Google are moving towards.
In your content, don’t overstuff keywords and kill your SEO campaign before it even begins. There is such a thing as too many keywords and it can be fatal for your site.
Add content to your category page, in particular, that’s where many e-commerce sites tend to sag. By adding informative content and ensuring all internal links are relevant, logical, and accurate, you can get your category page ranking to sweep up vague product searches too.
Adding words that exist in the sales lexicon, as in words like “deal,” “buy” or “shipping” or “review,” are great for generating long-tail traffic to your site, more specifically your product pages.
You want your site’s category and individual product pages to rank so that you mop up all the customers out there, from those who know what they want to those who are just browsing without direction.
4. Technical SEO
Technical SEO is important for all kinds of SEO and that means you’ll need a link profile for your ecommerce site.
As we said, ecommerce sites tend to be bigger, so simple math and probability dictate you’ll have more technical SEO issues.
This isn’t all inside baseball either, technical SEO profiles often decide which sites rank over one another when all else is equal.
You want that edge, so iron out all technical SEO issues so you’re not falling at the last hurdle. Run technical SEO audits like a madman and especially when you’ve been building out a new section of your site.
Trim your site like a fine bonsai tree and tie the branches so that no ugly technical issues sabotage your site’s performance.
Two of the most reputable tools you can find in the SEO community are SEMrush and Ahrefs, so check them out for all your site auditing needs.
5. Local SEO
This one is important if your site has a physical store somewhere.
If you haven’t already, you’ll want to let Google get real familiar with your business.
That way you’ll enter the search engine’s business database which will help your placement for local SERPs.
If I’m looking for the nearest shoe store, Google will want to recommend me the one four blocks away over one the next town over, even if that competitor’s site outperforms yours in typical SEO.
Go tell Google all about your business to reap the full benefits of having a local presence.
The local equivalent for backlinks when optimizing your local SEO presence is citations. Start with the Yellow Pages, or your local equivalent, and then see if newspapers and magazines can get you a shoutout in the local media environment.
They’ll also have an online presence nowadays, so see if you can’t negotiate links to their local websites to build authority. It’s just like link building but you’re more likely to know or have had contact with the people you’re reaching out to, improving your chances of success.
6. Content Marketing
You’re familiar with the online world, you are part of it, after all, so you should know that you have endless opportunities to become familiar with your ideal client base.
Depending on what your ecommerce site sells, join online communities formed around these products.
Specialized forum sites are great but there are massive sites like Reddit whose entire purpose is to unite people across a wide variety of interest bases that’ll surely encompass whatever it is you’re selling.
Once you’re in, what do you do next? Here’s a handy point-by-point guide:
After you’ve joined the various communities where your product is popular, scout out the words they use. Learn their language like a foreign infiltrator, picking up which words and phrases they use most often and the contexts they use them in. We’re sure you see where this is going.
That’s right, you just found some handy new keywords to play with. Create content – good content, as in your best content – aimed straight at these words and phrases. Raise the bar and watch your traffic count rise with it.
Rinse and repeat! You’ll run out of terms at some point but doing this when starting up a new operation is the great jumpstart that you’ll need to get the ball rolling. Also, if your ecommerce site is based in a field where the terminology changes or gets updated, like tech for example, then you can repeat this strategy whenever some newfangled technological term becomes the talk of the town.
7. Link Building
We’ve already established this is going to be necessary, so let’s get it out of the way and look at what ecommerce link building looks like.
Most SEO folks hate this part because it’s the imperfect combination of tedium and rejection, but there are definitive ways to improve your success rate.
The usual applies, stay away from low-quality sites and especially content farm links.
We’ve practiced the barter system since civilization has begun, so offer something nice to quality sites and see if they offer a nice inbound link back, it’s that simple in concept.
HARO is a great resource for finding people in need of a site to link to. It’s Help A Reporter Out and, by registering as a source, you can communicate with journalists and negotiate a deal that’ll be beneficial for you both. You get your link while journalists get a source for a piece they’re writing.
Outdated resources are also great for redirecting expired domains and link-heavy pages towards your own site. This is its own skill that requires training, but it’s possible to root out domains that have expired or been moved.
Grabbing up parked pages and redirecting them to your site is a surefire way to expand your traffic net. They’re also covert, your competitors can’t see these redirections easily, making them the perfect way to gain a much-needed edge.
8. Measure SEO Success
Just like how you need keyword research to plan where your shot is going, you need to see if it actually hit afterward.
Running a site involves a lot of tinkering, so it can be difficult to see if that one change you made alongside twenty others is what’s responsible for that SEO spike you saw on the weekend.
You’re going to need tools that measure this stuff, otherwise, you’re throwing phrases and keywords at the wall and you can’t even see what sticks.
The obvious candidate for this is Google Analytics, they’ll get you an accurate reading on your traffic and the engagement that the traffic is giving to you.
This means you can see how many people have found their way to your site but, more importantly, see any sticking points where engagement is concerned.
Filtering traffic by landing page and location is also great for optimizing on-page and local SEO performances.
Click-Through Rate (CTR) is the important metric to get from your engagement stats, too, since it’ll show how many have liked what they saw and chose your site to click on.
What’s more important, you can break these down by their queries, the country the searches came from, and what devices they used, which can all be used to tailor your content towards those demographics in the future.
The traffic you’re getting will depend on your search rankings and finding these out can be rough because of the personalization that Google adds to your searches.
Don’t search yourself, instead look to SEMrush, Ahrefs, and other sites that provide a Google Search Console for a flat and unbiased view of where your site is ranking.
Even more important than clicks are conversions and the revenue you’re getting from those conversions, assuming you’re running a for-profit business.
10 Common Ecommerce SEO Mistakes To Avoid
When it comes to SEO of all types, you want to avoid mistakes like the plague. It’s possible to stay afloat and adapt your strategy if you aren’t doing the right things, but doing the wrong things is a one-way ticket to search irrelevancy.
1. Inadequate product descriptions, titles, and images
Would you believe that there are people in the ecommerce game who have inadequate or downright inaccurate descriptions for their products?
That’s not you, right? Because that’s a great way to kill your SEO rankings.
Everything in your content, from the titles, images, and especially the product descriptions, should all be accurate and above board.
Tell me, how can you rank for relevancy when your content is irrelevant to the products you’re selling?
On the more technical side, there are a bunch of handy tips that can help you rank a page over other ecommerce sites.
Look at title tags and meta descriptions, as in the 160 characters of text that’ll appear directly under your site on a SERP. Those are the first words potential customers will read, so make them good.
Try to have high-quality product images, obviously, but it goes deeper than that. You should keep file size low so that your site will load promptly and without any resizing issues.
There are image formats that are great for web performance without having to sacrifice quality like WebP, so maybe look into using images in that format from now on.
2. Using duplicate content for product descriptions
Having bad product descriptions also includes wearing out the copy and paste shortcuts on your keyboard.
Don’t be that guy who duplicates content descriptions for their products, it’s once again antithetical to relevancy ranking since you create a soup of shared descriptions, making no individual product page shine when its keywords are looked up.
Keep it unique to get the most out of your product page SERPs. If you have a lot of similar products, ask yourself if you can combine them.
On sites that sell products, they’ll often have all colors and variants of the product share a page where the customer selects which versions they want. This is much better for ranking and standing out when Google does its crawls.
Keep checking your website scripts. That seems like obvious general maintenance advice, but it’s the simplest and most foundational advice that tends to be forgotten.
This is because you can get away with it, for a time. Your site won’t crash and burn if you don’t remove that bunk code that controls a plug-in you deleted last month, but it will harm your site’s load time. This tends to happen with ecommerce sites because of how much larger they are.
3. Mishandling out of stock pages
Handling in-stock pages is going to be great 80% of the time, but what do you do when an item is out of stock?
Slapping the words “out of stock” up there and calling it a day isn’t the best solution.
That’s called poor UX design.
So, what should you put there?
Provide an ETA on when the product will be available again, so your customers know when to come back.
Add an option to notify your users when that product is back in stock. Nudges like this are great for reminding your customers to take action and close a deal, and it’s a great customer service gesture that they’re sure to appreciate.
If the product isn’t available for the foreseeable future, find a similar product, and recommend that. An actually similar product would be nice since many sites think they can get away with improper product recommendations. This is a UX problem dealing with humans, not the almighty algorithm, so make sure that your suggested product is what your human customers will be looking for as a potential alternative.
During one of those site audits that we should be doing regularly, you’ll want to flush out any products that aren’t in your inventory and won’t come back. You don’t want them cluttering your site and baiting customers where there’s no product to be sold, and so no money to be made.
4. Poor website architecture
We’ve already talked about how poor website architecture is a problem, so let’s go into some more detail about what you shouldn’t do when building out your site.
You’re juggling more pages than most webmasters if you own an ecommerce site, so you should put your UX hat on and figure out how to balance a pleasing and logical site format with SEO performance.
If you’re doing it right, one shouldn’t really come at the detriment of the other.
Splitting your products into categories and subcategories is handy. Even if you stock just one kind of product, you’ll want to split it between the classic sub-categories of gender or cost, or both, whichever is applicable to what you’re offering.
For example, you can separate jackets into men’s and women’s, and that’s before categorizing all the different types of jackets you stock.
You can even add sub-categories for brand, material, color, you name it. This is easy with clothes, of course, but even with tech, you can separate by brand, cost, and whether they offer the newest tech features (think 4K for monitors and TVs) that’s trending.
Focus on what makes logical sense to you, a human, at least we hope. Don’t chase keywords, the purpose of the categorization is to reel people in once they’ve already gotten to your site.
They’ll get to your site via keywords and how they rank on SERPs, but once they’re in your site they’ll look for neat categorizations that appeal to their logic and sense of orderliness.
5. Poor URL structure
Good URL structure needs to come hand-in-hand with a sensical website architecture for you to get the most out of your site.
All the new categories and subcategories can make new URLs that need managing.
Following our jacket example from earlier, say you’re the proud webmaster of www.exemplarjackets.com, a nonexistent site.
You have jackets, obviously, but you can’t present a pile of unsorted jackets to your consumer base.
Watch how the URLs should progress as you add different product filters to narrow down your jacket-wearing options.
www.exemplarjacket.com/jackets – This is what we’d start with as a customer looks at the jackets on sale.
www.exemplarjacket.com/jackets?size=L – Then we add a size filter because they’ve chosen L.
www.exemplarjacket.com/jackets?size=L%material=denim – Now we’ve added that it’s a denim jacket they’re looking for.
www.exemplarjacket.com/jackets?size=L%material=denim%color=black – And now they’ve specified they want dark denim, so it’s been added to the URL chain.
www.exemplarjacket.com/jackets?size=L%material=denim%color+black%price=low-to-high – Finally, before making a purchase, they’ve sorted by price to get the most cost-effective option.
The order of each addition to this link isn’t concrete, it’ll change depending on the order the filters are applied. You see what this means, right?
Just one page can have tens of variants, if not a hundred, and this is why ecommerce sites end up being very big. You need to have canonical tags otherwise your SEO game is done.
By adding canonicals to these URLs, the search engine crawlers won’t count all of the different variants. Instead, they’ll only count the root product page and leave the rest to be explored by potential buyers.
Make sure your H1 headings and title tags also have the model numbers of any products you’re supplying, as well as the brand name if that’s relevant.
Be as specific as possible so both the crawlers and customers who know exactly what they want can find your site.
6. Keyword stuffing product pages
Keyword stuffing dilutes the quality of the keywords you are targeting and ranking for too many keywords across too few pages will limit the SERP potential that your site has.
It’s a common SEO mistake since we’re told that keywords are great, but as we said, there is such a thing as too many.
You’d be surprised how many sites make their pages literally unreadable in the pursuit of an extra five, or twenty-five, keywords on that page.
Don’t try too hard, it’ll turn away both your customers and your search engine.
It backfires in a spectacular way, increasing the bounce rates from your page and attacking your site’s SEO, harming your relationship with Google’s crawling algorithms, so you’re losing favor with the two parties that you want to keep on your page.
7. Not using product schema markup
Product schema markup is often neglected, especially by newcomers who might be intimidated by it.
The images you use on your site should be easily findable via Google Image Search functions since you never know where your next customer will stumble upon your site from.
Expanding your options is only a good thing.
It’s pretty simple, just make sure that the image filename and its alt tags are all specific and descriptive, and of course relevant to the product itself, and it should make it easier.
If your jacket images are called image001.jpg or some other vague and useless title, then you have a problem.
People will find their way to your site through images and ranking for image searches using schema markup is a great consolation prize for when you can’t quite crack the relevant keywords or phrases.
8. Using tabs or accordion content
When you’re formatting the product pages of your site, check the product descriptions as well as the specs and accompanying reviews if there’s material there to be displayed.
Is it all laid bare, or is it collapsed?
This has been a debate between UX and SEO specialists for quite some time. From the UX perspective, collapsing these looks much neater and is better for the eyes of your customers.
The SEO perspective, however, has dealt with Google in the past and know that material not immediately visible on-page may be forgotten.
Google’s track record on this, like with many things, has been mired and contradictory. Since 2016 they have said that everything is counted after saying that it wasn’t before then, but some SEO case studies have shown an increase in organic traffic when drop-downs aren’t used.
You’ll need to decide where you fall in this debate, we can’t do that for you.
What we can say is that a hover drop-down menu seems to be a happy compromise between SEO value and UX minimalism since it’s ostensibly counted by Google yet isn’t visible until customers show interest by moving their cursor over the drop-down trigger.
9. Using dynamically generated content
Organic searches rank static pages more consistently, building up a cumulative traffic base that you just don’t get with dynamically-generated content.
Besides, the more unique pages you have, the better, so it’s a good habit to acquire early on.
Don’t worry about having too many, just get into the groove and let the number of static pages grow as your site grows organically.
It also makes for a more solid site structure as you can organize the static pages around categories and other similarities they have.
For example, dynamically-generated content in a subcategory won’t be properly linked to the parent category, meaning that the subcategory won’t rank with the power of that parent behind it.
If you already have an established ecommerce site with many dynamically-generated pages, you may want to reconsider a URL migration. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but your lack of static content could be what’s holding you back, and it’ll benefit you in the long-term.
10. Focusing only on classical SEO ranking factors
Finally, ecommerce SEO is different from standard SEO, that’s the premise of this entire guide, so why would you treat your ecommerce site like any other SEO project?
Being hyper-focused on titles, H1s, or query rankings is fine, but you should be looking even deeper than that.
You should constantly be asking why users are clicking your site over another person’s, and vice versa.
With ecommerce, you’re providing a product, so it’s not as simple as “mine was the first site they saw when the page loaded.”
Product range and pricing are usually where it’s at. Become obsessed with your closest competitors, above and below you, to see what they’re doing right and wrong in comparison to your site.
SEO tools and algorithm pandering will help you out but remember that SEO was always about keeping users on your page instead of someone else’s.
Sometimes the edge you need isn’t found in tech jargon on your site’s back-end, but in good, old-fashioned sleuthing of your competition.
Discussing Ecommerce SEO Case Study Success Trends
Fortunately, we have a wealth of information to draw from when looking at how the big players conduct their own ecommerce SEO.
Think about it, every large retailer has made the leap online over the past two decades and, while they may have name recognition on the streets, every SERP is a free-for-all where even smaller sites can edge out larger, bigger-budget retailers as long as the right SEO strategy is implemented.
That said, we’re not going to get into case study specifics here. We’re going to go over the general trends that we’re seeing in big-name ecommerce SEO, because who better to learn from than the retail industry giants?
It’s apparent that even the largest ecommerce sites out there have trouble with two things, technical SEO and on-page SEO.
On the technical SEO side, even the largest sites were reluctant to have long redirect chains and Hreflang integration into their sites, which they seem to be being punished for when compared to smaller sites that have a tighter technical SEO profile.
As for on-page SEO, the ecommerce giants still struggled with H-tag structure and sub-300 word landing pages, which is a big no-no. Perfect on-page SEO is crucial to ecommerce success. There were also some messy URLs that could do with trimming, so make sure that your URLs are neat and easy to understand by both people and the algorithm.
Surprisingly, page speed is a problem for larger retailers on the desktop. It would seem that attempts to optimize for mobile have led some retailers to neglect their desktop speed performance when both are key to maximizing site success.
The best performers seemed to stay on top by virtue of many inbound links tied to quality content, which is all the more reason to employ a rigorous but above-board link building strategy.
What to take from these points? Keep your technical and on-page SEO in order, no matter what. Nothing gives you more of an advantage over larger competitors than a neater SEO profile.
Get Hreflang if you need to and clean up those URLs, try to have at least 300 words of content on your landing pages that are informative without being dense.
The rest of your content should be good, that’s a surefire way to get incoming links. Try to load your site as fast as possible on both mobile and desktop, letting one suffer over the other is unacceptable and it will cost you.
That’s all we have to say for now. We’re sure the landscape for ecommerce sites will change moving into the future but we’re confident you’ve got it down from here. There’s a lot of plates you need to spin, so refer back to us when you get stuck and you should find something that can help.
We can do you one better, actually, here’s a point by point breakdown of our entire guide:
Optimize all of your content for keywords, but not too much, while creating unique and original content that isn’t duplicated or dynamically-generated. Keyword stuffing suffocates SERP potential and can offend customers, so leave well alone after you’ve ranked for the terms you were targeting.
When an item goes out of stock, give its page some TLC. Add as much info as you can to draw customers back when it’s in stock, which you should give an approximation of. If you have the means, set up notifications for them. If the product isn’t coming back, then recommend them a similar product and clean out any unnecessary code corresponding to the unavailable product.
Decide product categories and subcategories based on UX, not suspected keyword volume, and use canonical tags to avoid a meltdown in the Google indexing algorithm that’ll only obfuscate your useful site pages and harm SEO performance.
Use product markup schema so that image-finding tools can find your products and display them properly, increasing traffic by this means. Remember this option when you can’t crack a keyword or phrase, it could be a consolation prize that your competitors haven’t thought of.
Use hovering menus to get the best of both tabbed and un-tabbed content. It looks good from the UX point of view while not sabotaging your page in Google’s search rankings, so it keeps the SEO side of things running smoothly. Descriptions, reviews, specs, slap a hover-triggered drop-down menu on all of them if you don’t want to have them on the page permanently.
Use good old competitive tactics like research on your competitors’ prices and product ranges. Offer more than what they are for less where it’s financially viable. Combining old school market aggression with an airtight SEO strategy can be the key to edging out your opponents and reaping the spoils.